William G. Johnsson Explains Why He Wrote Where Are We Headed? Adventism after San Antonio

William G. Johnsson, longtime editor of the Adventist Review and Adventist World, explained in an interview at the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School on June 17 why he wrote his most recent book. Its title is Where Are We Headed? Adventism after San Antonio. Oak and Acorn Publishing, which released it earlier this year, is a new endeavor of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. I did the interview.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/article/2017/07/01/william-g-johnsson-explains-why-he-wrote-where-are-we-headed-adventism-after-san-
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Only a couple of chapter titles got my interest…the main one was “defining the Gospel”

At least Johnsson is aware and sensitive enough to bring it to his audience’s attention. Just the inclusion of this chapter, in his book, is a clue that the SDA church is contaminated with false gospels.

It is really a shame & pathetic that so many scholars & pastors deal with so much theological speculation on eschatology and prophecy and yet cheat members because they are inept on Christian basics.


Kudos to Dr Johnsson for the book! I read the ebook version within weeks of its initial publication. I found it very pastoral and very educational. The Lord has certainly given Bill the gift of a wordsmithy as well as the gifts of knowledge and wisdom and above all a pastor’s heart!

The listings of the dichotomous worldviews available to Adventists at this critical juncture in global history was particularly arresting.

My question is - Once Adventists have decided on their particular mindsets is it possible for them individually to change? My conviction is that it is! God can change us, and help us adopt more expansive and inclusive mind settings! This can happen through education. Yes, Adventist education whether obtained from an institution, from our local congregations or from literature and other media. Perhaps Bill could have held out this possibility more than he did!

Many Adventists today are embedded in cultures that have pre-scientific worldviews mixed in. This may be one reason why Christianity in Africa is sometimes said to be an inch deep and a mile wide. Perhaps Adventism is that way too. In such a context it is so easy to revert to magical and superstitious world-views. We from cultures of a modernist or post-modern bent have nothing of which to boast. The whole story of Scripture provides a worldview that challenges many of the assumptions we have embibbed from our particular cultures also. How easy it is for us to br seduced by the worldviews of the prevailing context around us. A recent article by Bruce Bauer in the Journal of Adventist Mission Studies Vol 12 (2016) entitled “The Importance of World-View Change in the Discipling Process” asserts the essential importance of a long-term discipling process for us all, no matter what culture prevails around us. Adventist educational ministries, whether from our institutions, our local congregations or from our media are to engage in this long-term discipling process.

As a footnote, I would say that I am yet to see any good reason to believe that the 7 days of creation are anything apart from literal days. It seems to me that the very best of Adventist Biblical Studies stil affirms this. I refer for example to the new Seventh-day Adventist International Bible Commentary on Genesis by Jacques Doukhan. He entirely steers away from any mythic reading of the early chapters of Genesis, giving a host of reasons why this cannot be. Also, Adventists must not resile from an affirmation of the global impact of Noah’s flood. A real affirmation of these two things belongs in Adventist evangelism together with an equally powerful apologetic concerning the existence of God. I am yet to hear this apolegetic in equal measure with these first-mentioned affirmations. It is almost certain that a powerful apolegetic concerning the existence of God is entirely foundational to any useful affirmation of a literal creation. Of course there are a host of other scientific issues which require dedicated scientific attention. In this process many cherished scientific models will be up-ended and redesigned. In doing this we need not consult scientific orthodoxy as though it has the last word.


“His reflections yielded the conclusion that, if time as we know it should last that much longer, historians of Adventism will identify 2015 as even more significant than 1888. This is because at San Antonio long lasting denominational fault lines slipped and broke apart and the earthquakes and aftershocks have crushed much.”

Regarding this quote from the article:

How are ‘earthquakes and aftershocks’ un-related to ‘fault lines’ ?

Another metaphor says, “The oak is in the acorn.”

So, how can ‘2015’ ever be any more, or any less, significant than ‘1888’ ?

The ‘cross tree’ was in the ‘seed’ of the wrong fruit from the wrong tree that Eve and Adam ate in Eden, after believing the ‘wrong god’.

Was Eden’s mistake, then, any more, or any less, significant than the mistake made by ‘God’s church’ at Golgotha’s ‘tree’ ?

Age and atrophy merely confirm ‘significance’, they do not create it.

The GC of 2015’s ‘oak’ confirms the significance of the GC of 1888’s ‘acorn’.
The heart-rejection of the ‘Law and Gospel, hand-in-hand’, circa 1888, has resulted in the heart-rejection of ‘male and female, hand-in-hand’, in SDA pulpits, circa 2015 . . . and that divisive pattern of rejection has reproduced itself in all of the other ‘branches’ of disunity that have diseased the SDA church, especially, since the 1888 era.


I’m doubtful I will find the time to read Johnsson’s book, but I’m delighted that he has written it.

I love the geologic metaphors, as they are certainly apt. The fracture lines we see in our church today are embedded within those of American culture–and I’m afraid they will grow wider and longer in the years to come, especially under the self-assured, no-comprise, authoritarian leaders of the current administrations (POTGC and POTUS).

Yes, let’s move forward while trying to be respectful of differing viewpoints.

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Our mood has changed, I think, from one of excitement, expectation, and energy that we are the “hinge of history,” that at some point in the near future we will be the center of the conflict between good and evil on this planet, to a deep foreboding that how it will end and how we will fit in it is anybody’s guess. I for one cannot see any future horizon when keeping the Sabbath will be the primary issue which identifies the people of God, when those who do not keep it will seek to destroy those who do, and that both the Roman and Protestant churches will be Satanic instruments to annihilate the remnant people. It may all come to pass sometime in the future, but our ability to “see” it as our ancestors did, is gone. And I would suggest it is this absence of eschatological “nearness” that drives us, at least in part, to a passion for social justice which alienates so many of our brothers and sisters who sense that this focus takes away from that which has birthed and nourished us.

This may be to a degree “cultural,” but it feels more like the relatively new Adventists see the end as imminent, and older ones, largely in the developed world, see the end as unknown.


“…keeping the Sabbath will be the primary issue that identifies the people of God.” You may be right on this only if you understand that biblical Sabbath is about social justice (Isa 61:1; Luke 4:18, ff.). But if you are referring to Sabbath as only a ritual without this deeply salvific significance, namely justice, your statement reflects a false gospel. Read the Gospel and first epistle of John. It is love that identifies the people of God. In scripture love is justice. You may place the label “social” on it if you wish, but biblically that label is redundant.


The nature of the differences in the Seventh-day Adventist Church today suggest that administrative solutions, such as those suggested by William Johnsson, are not possible. The differences are caused, at least in good part, by separate methods of biblical interpretation. The two methods are “literary/historical” and “literary/critical.”

The only practical solution to this problem is the power of the vote. There are twenty million Adventists. How many of them depend upon the literary/historical method and how many depend upon the literary/critical method?

My personal estimate is that not more than one million Adventists depend upon the historical/critical method. If the Church voted democratically, the outcome would leave no doubt about which interpretive method would prevail.

The North American Division, whose leaders seem to favor the literary/critical method, appears to have an inordinate number of representatives to the General Conference out of proportion to its membership. Even with that advantage, the NAD has lost on the issue of women’s ordination. However, it is apparently unwilling to accept the vote and has chosen to make women’s ordination a separating issue.

This situation leaves the General Conference with few options. The world Church will not accept substantial deviations from its fundamental assumptions about biblical meaning. To do so would create a false unity. Given the overwhelming support for the actions of the General Conference around the world by individual members, a certain number of unions and/or divisions face a loss of identity as “Seventh-day Adventist.”


But Doukhan’s interpretation is also problematic. See www.adventistdistinctivemessages.com and look under Articles. There’s a recent article that deals with Doukhan’s commentary on Genesis.

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Hi Dr. Hemmings…

I believe that the issues you raise, concerning the Sabbath as expressed in the practice and experience of justice and love vs. a ritual observance, touches related, crucial issues within Adventism concerning its self understanding, and its reason for being. I also believe that one cannot broach this apart from a broader covenantal framework.

The Adventist resurrection of its own cherry picked version of old covenant membership badges (i.e. food laws and Sabbath) reveals a profound misunderstanding of what Paul was saying in a letter like Galatians concerning the temporary nature of the Torah as the covenant arrangement for the people of God, and the primacy of the new covenant promise as it related to the equal inclusion of Gentiles, and the obliteration of racial, gender and social inequalities, based on faith in Christ alone. This has helped to breed a culture of spiritually arrested development that promotes a ritualized religious climate, is divisive by nature, and makes non essentials of Christian faith, such as food laws and holy times, into life or death issues.

The triumphal self identification as the remnant church of bible prophecy, based on these and other related doctrinal badges, over against all other Christian groups, is divisive to the wider body of Christ, creating an exclusivity not in line with the truth of the gospel. It is founded on an eschatology that revolves around law, particularly the Sabbath, not inclusive grace. In the Adventist scenario, true Christians will be marked and identified in the end by Sabbath observance. The NT, however, states that love is the fulfillment of the law, and Christ says that his followers will be known by the inclusive, self giving love they have for one another, and identified as his at the judgement by the love they’ve shown for the poor, the outcast, and the needy…as you have stated. Thus, the Sabbath itself, even if understood beyond ritual observance, can only be a shadow of Christ and this type of relational and spiritual life and community that his Spirit brings to fruition, the real mark of the people of God.

With such a theological underpinning and a premium placed on disputable matters and doctrinal correctness, rather than an inclusive love and grace as its highest value, it is no wonder that the climate of the entire denomination is divisive, as evidenced by issues such as WO not being handled in true Christian freedom with genuine Christian charity. Somehow, this seems missing from the Adventist organizational DNA.

I believe real institutional and entire belief system reevaluation needs to happen in order for this to truly change. I’m not holding my breath.




Adventists have always given more importance to the OT covenant while ignoring the freedom of the Law given by Paul to the Galatians.
The Torah was the basis for Judaism; the Gospel Covenant in the NT Epistles is the basis for Christianity. Adventists cannot observe both.


Love is the fulfillment of the law. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself. How do you love God? First four commandments including acknowledging Him as your Creator and Redeemer and Owner by worshipping only Him, shunning idolatry, representing Him faithfully by living a holy lifestyle, and honoring the Lord’s Day, the seventh day Sabbath. How do you love your neighbor? Last six commandments is the place to start.

The new commandment of love does not abolish the original Ten Commandments. In fact it is already part of the original ten. It just had to be clarified and re-emphasized by God Himself (Leviticus 19 and Romans 13:9). So, in actuality, we now have Eleven Commandments that are actually Ten.

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And I give you a new commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.

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i wouldn’t be so sure…ever since the failed december 7, 1987 lawsuit launched by our general conference against the use of the name “seventh-day adventist” by kinship international, the LGBT organization of current and former adventists formed in 1976, the courts have held that anyone practicing what they consider to be seventh-day adventism can call themselves seventh-day adventist…U.S. District Court judge, mariana pfaelzer, ruled in the kinship case that the name seventh-day adventist is a descriptor for a religion, and not subject to trademark protection…presumably consideration would have also been given to the fact that the name seventh-day adventist was in use as early as 1860, well before our official incorporation in 1863…of interest is the additional fact that the church had until 1991 to appeal the kinship case, which it apparently never did - meaning that judge pfaelzer’s ruling stands - although it launched a second, separate lawsuit against kinship in 1991, which it lost again…

at this point it is probably safe to assume that anyone who wants to call themselves seventh-day adventist can do so, whether or not they align themselves with the GC, and whether or not what they believe is endorsed by the GC…this means that portions of the church who leave or are expelled over WO can continue to use the name seventh-day adventist, although of course they would need to use new logos and insignia…in the event of this tragic eventuality, certainly san antonio will need to be viewed retrospectively as the most massive mistake and over-reach by conservatives in our 154-yr history…after-all, a yes vote would have secured everything for themselves that headship advocates could have desired, but within an intact church…a fractured church, with non-aligned seventh-day adventist organizations scattered all over the place, implies that adventists are no better than other denominations that have split over policy differences, and represents a serious, practically insurmountable obstacle to our witness in a secular world…

I’m no lawyer, but it seems the courts are allowing the name “Seventh-day Adventist” as an adjective (Association of SDA Rock Climbers) but not as a standalone name, which is trademarked.

In the event of a split, the right to use the name would probably remain with the legal majority. Since the Southeastern California Conference and the Pacific Union are in the legal minority, they could not use the name “Seventh-day Adventist.”

Practically speaking, there can’t be two separate organizations with the same name.

A new name for the SDA church in full pugilistic style might be the Watchtower Seventh-day Adventist Church.


“a church which is foremost in uplifting Christ . . .” - Johnson commenting on Ellen White’s wish for the SDA church.

Let me first of all remark that William Johnson is a gentleman - and a gentle man in the strength of his concerns about where Seventh-day Adventism is headed - or is moving.

But then please allow me to move on and, as a former Seventh-day Adventist and now Roman Catholic, comment that on this view that Adventism is, or should be, the foremost Christian church in uplifting Christ. Unfortunately Adventism has been so intent on painting the Catholic church black and blue with some of it’s (Roman Catholicism’s) absolutely atrocious practices that it has likewise been entirely dishonest in never telling us of how the Catholic faith - even before Nicea - has been foremost in uplifting Christ. I wish I had learned about that earlier instead of being indoctrinated with this strange idea that it is Adventism which is in the forefront of a purified Christology.

I must admit that my first attendance at a Catholic mass shocked me to the roots - suddenly, very suddenly, it was brought home to me of the high Christology of Catholicism - quite contrary to what I had learned from reading the Great Controversy those many years ago.

Johnson speaks of a dichotomy in the SDA church - although he does not use that word - and so it is in the Catholic church. In fact the Catholic church has a vast horizontal and vertical number of dichotomies which have been exposed during the last sixteen hundred or so years, but it is the primacy of Jesus which has always remained paramount in its theology. I wish Adventism would show that side of Catholicism. It is this fixation on a church which is meant to be purified Protestantism, the ‘remnant church’, the ‘truth’ which unfortunately defines Seventh-day Adventism. So very few know of the good work which Seventh-day Adventists do in their hospitals and clinics throughout the world, instead it is a victim of its own ‘end of time’ theology which hides its wonderful social gospel which I witnessed so many times in Africa.


And I would suggest it is this absence of eschatological “nearness” that drives us, at least in part, to a passion for social justice which alienates so many of our brothers and sisters who sense that this focus takes away from that which has birthed and nourished us.

James, I agree with you on the significance and criticality of this divergence. But, as you stated it, I’m impressed with the similarity to the major fault line of pre- vs. post-millennialism (“temporal millennium”) that separated Millerites/Adventists from their contemporaries. Is the Advent hope extinguished, replaced by a spiritualization of Christ’s kingdom and the building of that kingdom on Earth, now? Have we come full circle back to the millennial view that Miller and our founders rejected?

I don’t think so. Without our eschatological hope and our newly refreshed understanding of the significance of the Book of Revelation by our NT scholars, especially Sigve Tonstad, we would lose our identity, the Sabbath notwithstanding. I am describing a “mood” caused by the delay which needs reflection by our best people.